Derek Zoolander calls them "abodiginees". The ignorance isn't quite all his. Appropriated by the likes of Crocodile Dundee as servile, vaguely mystical dopes, Australia's indigenous population have had a rough time of it on film. If stereotypes are born out of a knee-jerk response - the Fear Of The Other - then on screen, the aborigines are still feared, still Other.
Before this, the only truly notable movie to nail the native psyche was The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith (1978). In this horrifying drama about a young mixed-race man rejected by his ancestors and exploited by his settlers, Jimmy cracks and massacres his white masters. Phillip Noyce's extraordinary new movie takes a different tact. The violence here is psychological but it's just as scarring, just as savage.
Set in the 1930s, the antagonistic opening sees three girls kidnapped from the outback and dumped in a mixed-race correctional facility. The brainchild of colonial bureaucrat AO Neville (Branagh), the benevolent gulag preaches assimilation at all costs. Ringleader Molly doesn't swallow it and, sister and cousin in tow, they escape to walk the 2,000 mile journey back, the continent-bisecting fence guiding them home whilean outback tracker pursues.
The subject matter screams of scandalised tub-thumping but its concerns are universal - a moving tribute to the human spirit, of determination, bruised innocence and optimism. Remarkably, these emotions go largely unspoken: led by newcomer Everlyn Sampi, the girls' naturalistic playing means their expressions speak louder than "acting".
Ultimately, it's a tale that could be told without words, a visual poem drifting with potent images. It's a technique daring in its simplicity but it works brilliantly. As for its "importance", even now the Oz government won't apologise for an ethnic cleansing policy that continued until the early 1970s. This is the best kind of movie, the kind that comes back to haunt you months after watching it. Resonating and, above all, reminding. Go see.
Noyce's remarkable film reclaims Australia's Stolen Generation with heart and elegance. The visuals are extraordinary, the acting faultless, the impact undeniable.
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